The movie night ends pretty abruptly after that. Someone fetches Mamma Beale and she sweeps downstairs in her nightgown to hurry them all to bed as she shuts herself, Chloe, and Mickey in the kitchen.
Just before the door closes behind her, Chloe catches Beca’s eye and gives her a quick, close-lipped smile. It rips at something inside Beca so hard that she almost follows. But it’s a family thing. She kinda remembers what that’s like.
The other girls attempt to pile up by the door and listen in, but Aubrey and Beca wrangle them together and force them into their rooms. Aubrey delivers some truly spectacular threats to Fat Amy to keep her there. Then Beca follows through on her promise to Jesse and walks Aubrey out to her car.
It’s cold out and the big slippers Beca stole from by the door (Dana’s or Gran’s, she thinks) are warm, but the rest of her is shivering by the time they reach Aubrey’s car. Instead of climbing in and driving away, Aubrey motions for Beca to get in. So she hops into the passenger seat as Aubrey cranks the car up and turns the heater on. Beca rubs her hands together in front of the vent, pushing out a deep breath.
Neither of them speak for a minute, letting the heat sink into their skin.
“Mickey left for college the year before I met Chloe.” Aubrey’s voice is quiet and Beca has to strain to hear it over the roaring heater.
“Yeah, she told me.” Beca looks over just as Aubrey does, her eyebrows up. Surprised. “She said he left and for a bit it was fine. But then he stopped calling or answering. Didn’t come home for holidays.” She shrugs. “She didn’t say why.”
Aubrey nods thoughtfully, eyes on the house again. “Well, I’m not entirely sure either. But…” She stops, takes a deep breath, and folds her hands in her lap. “I just want to make sure you’ve got Chloe’s back for this.”
It doesn’t make sense to Beca--the idea that she wouldn’t have Chloe’s back, on anything. “Of course I do.”
“Good. You...make her happy.” It sounds like it’s difficult for her to say, like the words catch in her throat. “I’m just… I’d like to reiterate that I’m glad it’s you and not some rando from the newspaper. Especially now.” Aubrey drops her head back against her seat, rolling her eyes. “Chloe and her ridiculous ideas.”
Beca laughs, rubbing her palms together idly, even though they’re a little too warm now. “When Chloe wants something…”
The radio’s a low hum under the heater and Beca sits back, sliding her feet around in the borrowed slippers. Finally, Aubrey speaks. “You look at her like Jesse looks at me.”
It feels like someone’s kicked her in the gut and suddenly she’s back on the couch, soft lips pressing firmly to her shoulder and red hair spilling across her chest, tangling around her fingers. And the thought’s been on her mind all night, but it slips down and past her lips before she can trap it. “I don’t think it’s Tom that’s starting to believe it.”
Aubrey’s smiling when she looks up. “Maybe you should tell her that.”
Spilling her guts to an almost stranger was not on Beca’s to-do list today and now she feels weird--raw and exposed. So she crosses her arms and awkwardly uses her left hand to pull the door handle, even though it’s tucked under her right arm. “Well. Not tonight, Control Freak.”
“Yes, that’s probably for the best, Bitchy.” Aubrey grins around the last word, flicking the back of her fingers at Beca’s arm. Beca hisses and curls away from the swat, flattening herself against the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Tell Chloe I said goodbye?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Beca climbs out, already missing the car interior as a cold breeze slips up her sleeve. It reminds her of Chloe’s hand doing the same thing earlier. But now’s not the time for that, so she just waves as Aubrey backs down the driveway. It occurs to her that Chloe had promised to make Aubrey text Jesse when she was leaving. And Aubrey seems like the type that would remember on her own. But, just in case.
“Yo, Snitch. Your girl is on her way home.” She types the message as she climbs the porch steps and she has a response by the time she finishes kicking off the slippers.
It’s the same stupid gif of the woman twerking by the highway and, “Thx Becawwwww i luv u”.
She scrunches her nose at the text. “Don’t be a fucking weirdo, dude.”
The kitchen is empty when she passes through it. Which is lucky, because she really has no idea what she would have done if it wasn’t. The key to the garage is gone, so she lets herself out the back door, locking it, and hurries across the yard, her bare feet protesting the chilly grass. She wrenches the door open and throws herself through it, cursing under her breath and pressing her feet into the (slightly) warmer concrete floor until the stinging stops. Why the hell didn’t she wear shoes to the house the first time?
It’s a soft call, but it hits her hard, straightening her spine and pulling her up the stairs two at a time. Because it’s the voice Chloe uses when she’s certain the exam the next day is going to beat her, when a kitten is brought into the shelter and they aren’t sure if it’s going to make it through the night.
She’s not crying when Beca makes it up the stairs, skidding to a halt. But her lip is trembling like she could be any second and when she sees Beca, she breathes in so deeply that it lifts her shoulders to her ears. Beca doesn’t know why she’s shrugging and she doubts Chloe does either.
The second Beca steps forward though, Chloe closes her eyes and tears that weren’t there a second ago are suddenly racing for her chin. And they tangle around Beca’s feet, stumbling her forward. She doesn’t know how to do this. Her family never cried when she was growing up. Her father shot himself in the thumb with a nail gun once and his eyes barely watered. Her mother did chemo and surgery and death all without crying. It just wasn’t what they did. So Beca avoids crying people like the plague. It’s kind of a rule: Beca Mitchell doesn’t do crying.
But this is Chloe and she’s been the exception to every rule Beca’s ever had, including this one. So she’s across the room before Chloe’s first ragged breath slips out and Beca catches it in her cupped hands, dragging her thumbs across wet cheeks. “Hey, babe, it’s okay.” Chloe starts a little at the word, but Beca ignores that. There’s time to feel awkward and weird about things she says later. “Do you, uh.” She rolls her eyes at her own inability to string together a sentence in the face of a crying Chloe Beale. “Like, we can talk. About it. If you want.”
Chloe’s smile is unsteady, but it brushes against the heel of Beca’s palm and she wraps her fingers around Beca’s wrists. “Not tonight?”
Beca has no idea why it comes out as a question, but she nods in answer anyways. Then, because it’s what they do and all she can think of to follow up with, she says, “Wanna dance?”
Chloe nods into her palms and Beca drops them to grab Chloe’s wrists and pull her up. She unfolds from the bed more gracefully than Beca could ever hope to. Once she’s standing, Beca pulls her hands back and twists her wrists around, popping them. She pulls out her phone to put on music. Maybe some Matchbox Twenty. Chloe likes their softer songs when she’s sad.
Before she can choose one, Chloe pulls the phone from her hand and tosses it onto the bed as she closes the distance between them. She wraps her arms around Beca’s neck and pulls her in until there’s no space between them. Automatically, Beca slips her hands around to Chloe’s back, laying them one after the other down her spine.
They sway in place, no music, no set beat beyond the pounding in her chest. She isn’t sure it’s actually hers or if it’s Chloe’s. But it’s rapid and kind of hurts, though she can’t bring herself to worry about it. Because Chloe turns her head just as the tension in her chest gets to be too much and she places a soft kiss just behind Beca’s ear.
“Can we talk tomorrow? About everything?”
Everything. She knows Chloe means about Jesse’s dick cousin and her brother and why she’s sad, but right now Chloe’s breath on her neck and her toes resting lightly on top of Beca’s as they dance to nothing feels like everything. So she just nods. “Yeah. Of course, Chlo.”
Turns out “tomorrow” doesn’t mean “as soon as we wake up” like Beca was hoping. Instead, she wakes up to Chloe quietly slipping down the stairs and Stacie and Emily standing at the foot of the bed, both wearing torn jean shorts and tank tops.
“Good morning, Boss.” Stacie holds up what Beca recognizes as her own shirt--the red one Stacie had torn up--and waves it like a flag. “Up you get. We’re on Eli duty.”
“Why does that require you to wave my clothing around at the crack of dawn?” Beca shoves herself back into the pillows until they nearly cover her face. “Where’s Chloe goin’?”
Stacie takes a deep breath and Beca suddenly feels like she’s in danger. Sure enough, Stacie launches herself onto the bed--no, sorry, onto Beca--and settles down happily. “Well, first off, it’s almost noon. The other girls have already left. And Chloe is going have a family meeting.” She ignores Beca’s groaning and pained protests, shifting to get more comfortable. Which digs her elbow into Beca’s gut. “So we’re babysitting. He’s taking us ride four-wheelers.”
That wakes Beca up. She presses her heels into the bed and bucks up, tossing Stacie off, and scrambles away, nearly falling to the floor. Emily catches her. Barely.
“Okay, okay, I’m up.” Beca straightens, spinning out of Emily’s hold and pulling her t-shirt back into place. “Get out. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
Stacie, who somehow landed like she was posing for an artist, huffs. “We don’t get to watch? Beca, why don’t you love us?”
“Because you ask why you can’t watch me change. Get out.”
By the time Beca has changed into the one pair of basketball shorts she brought and the shirt Stacie had been waving around, given up on taming her hair, pulled on a baseball cap she finds in a drawer, and answered her work emails, Stacie has rounded up Eli and four-wheelers for all of them: two green, a red, and a bright pink one that Beca would bet her life belonged to Chloe at one point.
Speaking of Chloe. Beca glances at the house. Mamma Beale’s profile passes in front of the kitchen window, gone too fast to catch her expression.
Eli is standing on the seat of the green bike, bouncing from foot to foot, a thick black helmet strapped to his head. When she walks out, he excitedly starts signing to her, pausing in the middle to figure out how to say it all. I’m going to run Stacie off the road when we race.
She snorts, signing back. I’m going to video it.
“Okay, quit talking about me.” Stacie throws her ridiculously long leg over the bright pink four-wheeler. Her stupid feet touch the ground on both sides. Beca kind of hates her.
“How’d you know?”
“What else could you possibly be talking about?” She flips her ponytail and leans back on her hands, winking.
Beca pretends to gag as she climbs on the other green one. “Where did these even come from?”
“Oh, sure, change the subject--”
“They keep them in the shed on the other side of the house.” Emily hops on the red one. Her feet also touch the ground on both sides. Beca doesn’t hate her as much though. She’s got that sweet and innocent baby giraffe thing going. It’s hard to hate baby giraffes, even for Beca.
“They have a shed and a garage?” Beca turns the key and cranks up her four-wheeler. “How rich are you guys?” she asks Eli.
He kicks his own four-wheeler on, revving it. “Mamma says ‘not rich’ when I ask that. Dad built the shed.”
“And the four-wheelers?”
“Presents from Aunt Dana!” He drives in a slow circle around them, yelling over the sound of the bikes. “She accidentally told Uncle Silas what Mamma was getting him for his birthday one year and she felt real bad, so she got these!”
Beca turns to Stacie. “How do I get Dana to spill my secrets to the family?”
“Tell them to her?” Stacie shrugs, laughing. “Let’s go! Follow the short one, Emily! Oh, sorry, I mean the short two!”
Beca flips her off the second Eli turns around.
They ride down the treeline until it breaks and they’re flying over hills and through dried river beds, kicking dust and rocks up behind them. Eli takes it kind of easy, no doubt under his mother’s orders, and Emily seems content to follow his lead.
Which leaves Beca and Stacie careening ahead, riding up embankments until the threat of tipping sideways and flipping is a very real one. Stacie pulls ahead going downhill and Beca nearly rear ends her as she zips around. They’re laughing and trash talking. It reminds Beca so heavily of her childhood, doing this same thing with Jesse through the back acres of the Swansons' place, that she twists the throttle harder, flashing past Stacie and whooping loudly. The wind rips into her shirt, billowing it out like ship sails. Stacie cheers behind her. She wishes Chloe had come with them.
By the time they slow to a stop at the top of a hill, Beca’s bare arms and legs are covered in mud and bits of grass. Her clothes are soaked from a puddle she’d crashed through because Stacie had blocked her off from swerving away.
Beca parks and spins around to watch Eli and Emily carefully follow their tire tracks up to them. Beside her, Stacie is running her fingers through her hair and picking grass out of her cleavage. Eli stops, pointing to something on the ground in front of his four-wheeler and Emily joins him, leaning down to squint at it.
Alone for the moment, Beca glances at Stacie. Her blood is still running hot from the ride, but something's been sitting heavy on her chest since they left. “She was crying.”
Stacie looks up, fingers still down her shirt, one hand cupping her boob. “Hm?”
“Chloe. When we got back to the garage.” She looks away as Stacie starts digging in her shirt again. Emily is off her bike now, crouching in front of Eli’s. “I don’t like leaving her if that’s what he does to her.”
Triumphantly, Stacie pulls a rock from her bra and chucks it at Beca’s leg where it leaves a stinging red mark. Beca hisses, jerking away. “She’ll be okay. He’s her brother. Family sucks sometimes.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Beca rubs her leg. Emily is now on all fours, smacking around in the thick grass. She thinks about asking what she’s doing, but Eli is wrapped forward over his handlebars, pointing, and it looks like he’s giving her directions. So it’s probably fine.
“Chloe totally has a toner for you?” Stacie says it so nonchalantly that it takes Beca a second to even remember what a “toner” is.
“Dude, what?” She blinks rapidly, barely catching Stacie’s smirk.
“You said to tell you something you don’t know.” She shrugs, brushing grass from her knees with quick slaps. “I don’t know if you know that one or not yet. But, whoa, y’all were getting hot last night!”
Beca sputters, unsure how to even pretend she’s not freaking out. “We-I-You saw?”
Stacie’s jaw drops and Beca knows she’s fucked up. “Saw ?” Stacie trills, launching forward to grab for Beca’s arm. “Beca Mitchell, what would I have seen?”
“Nothing!” Beca scrambles away, scooching to sit on the steel rack on the back of the four-wheeler, her knees pulled to her chest to keep Stacie at bay. “You said--”
“I said you were hot last night!” Stacie settles for gripping the edge of the rack, a few inches from Beca’s leg. Her eyes are wide and so very green in the sunlight. “You know I see sexual chi--”
“Oh my god, this again--”
“And I meant you guys’ chi was hot last night.” Stacie’s lips peel back into the biggest grin Beca’s ever seen. “But what would I have seen if I’d really looked, Boss?”
“Nothing!” Beca growls, pulling her toes back so she can easily launch a kick at Stacie if she gets closer. “And Chloe--”
“Has a toner for you. Yes. Very obvious.”
“No.” She doesn’t really believe her own denial, but Stacie looks smug and Beca hates it.
“Beca.” Stacie narrows her eyes, yanking enough to shake the bike. “I’m not dumb, remember?”
She remembers. Stacie’s incredibly intelligent and observant and quick to learn. It’s why she’d done so well when she’d started as an intern at Residual Heat. It’s what had brought them together as friends in the first place. (After Stacie had attempted to get her number multiple times and Beca had shut her down over and over.) That and a good ear for music as well as a better ear for listening when someone needed to talk.
Not that Beca has ever taken her up on that before. Chloe is the one she talks to.
But now it’s Chloe she wants to talk about. And Stacie is ridiculous. But she’s brilliant too and honestly one of the best friends Beca’s ever had. So she sighs and looks away. “She sort of kissed me.” Emily has emerged from the grass, holding up what looks like a gigantic lizard and Eli is petting its head.
The four-wheeler rocks as Stacie hops onto it, sitting backwards on the seat to face Beca. (Who very nearly backflips into the grass, because, Jesus, Stacie is like a ninja sometimes.) Her hands land on Beca’s shins, fingers wrapping around to her calves, probably to keep her from escaping. “Becs. First off, I need vivid details later--”
“Okay, a vague summary that I will fill in the blanks of. But second,” Stacie shakes her, slapping her knees together painfully. “What did you do?”
Beca shrugs, not sure how to describe it. Kinda died? Kinda lit up like a Christmas tree? Kinda dug her fingers into Chloe’s hair and urged her to continue whatever she was doing? “I don’t know? Accept...ed...it?”
Stacie’s grip tightens and she squeals so loud that Beca winces. “Beca!”
“Why must you touch me--”
“This is amazing!” Stacie talks right over her, rocking the four-wheeler back and forth with her wiggling. “When are you telling her you love her?”
Everything in Beca’s stomach starts a rousing game of musical chairs and she pulls in a suddenly much needed breath. “Dude, I’m-I just-it’s been--”
“Oh my god,” Stacie releases her legs and Beca can still feel the indents of her fingers. “Confess by singing her ‘Chloe’ by Emblem3!”
Instead of immediately shutting Stacie down, Beca’s brain jumps on that, running through her mental music library. “Is that the one that goes, Chloe --” Stacie sings along with her. “I know your sister turns everyone on, but you’re the one I want.”
“No.” Beca rolls her eyes. “You are running away with this. Chloe doesn’t even have a sister.”
Stacie straightens, arms out. “Hello! She has so many sisters!” Her smirk slides back into place. “I’m the one that song’s talking about obviously.”
Beca barely has time to fake gag before Emily and Eli are riding up beside them.
“We found a lizard!” Eli yells, breathless. “We named him Olly and let him go--”
The muffled chorus of “No Diggity” starts playing from Beca’s pocket and Eli politely pauses as she fishes out the Ziploc bag Stacie had given her to stash her phone in before they left. She answers without looking. “Hey, Chlo.”
“Beca, where are you?” Her voice is strained and quiet. All of Beca’s senses go on alert.
“Uh.” Beca turns the phone away from her mouth. “Where are we?”
“Riker Hill,” Emily says quickly.
“Riker Hill. What’s wrong?”
Chloe’s breath whistles through the phone for a second. “Who’s with you?”
“Just Emily, Stacie, and Eli. Why?”
“Can you head back this way?”
Beca hears voices in the background and it all sits wrong with her. Chloe doesn’t avoid answering direct questions. In fact, she’s usually giving far too much information. “Chloe, what’s wrong?”
“Bec... Aubrey’s missing.”